Unfortunately, these photos are all that survive of the splendour of Cincinnati’s “Old Main” public library. The wrought iron book alcoves, spiral staircases, level upon level of bookshelves and balconies belong to the public library that was completed in 1874 and subsequently torn down in 1955.
This photo was taken from the top level at the back corner of the atrium, facing towards the front of the building.
The architect of the “Old Main” was a local man named James W. McLaughlin, who would go on to design Cincinnati’s Art Museum. Although the Library was a wondrous feat at the time of its completion – not only was it visually impressive, it included central heating and an elevator – by the 1950s it had slumped into disrepair. There was poor ventilation, peeling paint and overall was deemed antiquated and unable to house the library’s growing catalogue of books (by then close to 1.25 million volumes).
The new library located on 800 Vine St. opened its doors on Jan. 31st 1955 leaving the “Old Main” on 629 Vine St. to be mercilessly demolished just 5 months later. The site is now a parking garage.
In his history of Cincinnati’s public library John Fleischman wrote, “Yet when the doors closed forever … and wise heads declared that Old Main would never be missed, they were wrong.”